Don Granato lasted three full season as Buffalo’s coach. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

After firing coach Don Granato, Sabres GM Kevyn Adams begins search for experienced replacement

BUFFALO – In firing coach Don Granato following a disappointing season in which the Sabres missed the playoffs for an NHL-record 13th consecutive year, general manager Kevyn Adams has shifted the onus to himself.

Adams has always accepted blame for the Sabres’ troubles, and in discussing Tuesday’s dismissal of Granato and the state of his team for 45 minutes in KeyBank Center, he again shouldered his share of the responsibility for an 84-point campaign.

But GMs usually get one chance to let go of their hand-picked coach. Adams’ next hire must get the Sabres to the playoffs, or more drastic moves will likely be coming.

So, why did Granato, who helped transform the Sabres from an also-ran into an up-and-coming team that fell one win short of a playoff berth last year, get fired now?

His early work earned him a two-year contract extension prior to last season that was set to kick in next year.

“We did not play well enough,” said Adams, who also fired assistant coach Jason Christie and video coordinator Matt Smith. “From Day One of training camp, I don’t think we had our standard high enough. Our expectations inside the room need to be raised and there needs to be accountability across the board, and that starts with me. I take responsibility for this.”

While Adams, who declared the Sabres’ playoff window open in October, saw troubling signs early, he did not want to make a coaching change in season. He acknowledged, however, he had been thinking about it before Monday’s season finale.

“I just feel that we left some things on the table this year,” he said. “We didn’t perform to expectations, and we have to be better.”

Still, Granato accomplished something rare.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that our locker room, our team, our organization, is in a better place today than we were three and a half years ago when Donny took over as head coach, and I’m very appreciative of that,” Adams said.

He added: “I believe we have a talented group of players that now we need to take the next step.”

Adams doesn’t want to hear the Sabres are the NHL’s youngest team.

“We now have players that have experience in this league and have been through the league a few times,” he said. “That no more needs to be talked about. Yeah, it’s nice to have players that have been around a little bit but to me it’s more about finding the fits that help us win.”

Adams said the Sabres have retained their other assistants: Matt Ellis, Mike Bales, Marty Wilford and Dan Girardi. Ellis, who’s in charge of the power play, could be assigned to a different role.

“The people that were retained on the coaching staff were retained for a reason,” Adams said. “But I think this will be a very important conversation with the next head coach.”

Expect that next coach, the Sabres’ seventh since 2013-14, to be an established name. Adams said he wants his hire to have NHL head coaching experience and the ability to “push this group to the next level.”

“I have it in my mind exactly what I’m looking for and that’ll be starting today,” he said.

Adams covets experience, so former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who was fired by the New Jersey Devils earlier this season, could be in the mix. Adams, who did not acknowledge any candidates, worked as an assistant coach under Ruff in Buffalo.

The affable Granato, who was popular with his players, joined the Sabres as an assistant coach in 2019-20. He took over the bench on an interim basis during an 18-game losing streak in 2020-21 and was named permanent coach following that season.

After finishing dead last, the Sabres quickly improved under Granato, earning 75 points in 2021-22 and 91 in 2022-23, when they scored 293 goals and fell one win short of cracking the postseason.

Some players who struggled under Ralph Krueger, Granato’s predecessor, developed into stars. Rasmus Dahlin has taken his place among the NHL’s elite defensemen. Tage Thompson, a winger Granato shifted to center, scored 47 goals in 2022-23.

But it took the Sabres months to find their footing this season. They had their first three-game winning streak in late February and never reached four. They compiled just 244 goals. Their power play looked feeble most of the campaign, converting at just a 16.6 percent clip, the league’s fifth-worst number.

While they trimmed their goals against from 297 to 243, their pedestrian scoring nullified that improvement.

They often started slowly and chased games, getting outscored a whopping 97-67 in the first period.

The Sabres got into the thick of the playoff chase in March but quickly fell out.

Their inability to reach overtime and earn at least one point helped stymie their playoff chances. They registered more regulation wins, 33, than the five teams immediately ahead of them in the standings.

However, they compiled just six “loser” points. Entering Tuesday’s schedule, the Washington Capitals, having earned 11 of their 89 points from overtime or shootout losses, held the Eastern Conference’s second wild card spot.

Following Monday’s 4-2 road win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, Granato, 56, told reporters he wanted to talk about the game, not his uncertain future.

He compiled a 122-125-27 record with the Sabres.

Adams said the lower-body injury that Thompson suffered during Monday’s game will likely prevent him from playing for Team USA at the upcoming World Championship.

“He was pretty disappointed after the game,” he said. “I know he was excited to go to Worlds.”

Adams said Thompson underwent an MRI on Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s nothing that’ll in any way affect him next year or in the summer training, but he … would have been out potentially a few weeks,” he said.

The Sabres on Tuesday sent rookie winger Lukas Rousek back to the Rochester Americans.

Sabres players are scheduled to hold the first of two days of end-of-season media availability today.

One thought on “After firing coach Don Granato, Sabres GM Kevyn Adams begins search for experienced replacement”

  1. How do they keep Matt Ellis? He was in charge of the power play which was the worst in the league.

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